All posts by Paul J. McAndrew, Jr.

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Tips on Your Workers’ Compensation Claim

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

I just returned from New Orleans where I made a presentation to about 150 workers’ compensation lawyers (both for workers and for employers) on “Case and Client Evaluation In Workers’ Compensation”.

Since many in the audience represented insurance companies and employers, I paid particular attention to their response to my presentation. As one would expect, their best chance to win a case on behalf of the employer and insurance carrier occurs when several items come into play:

  1. When there is no actual report of the injury. [Worker’s Tip: No matter how small the work injury, make sure it is reported in some fashion – cell phone, voice recording, or Accident Report and the worker keeps a copy (BEST).]
  2. Failure to report that a work injury occurred to the first treating practitioner (whether Emergency Room, employer-directed medical facility, hospital, or primary care physician). The single most difficult hurdle in a workers’ compensation claim involving a traumatic injury occurs when no report of the injury is found in the initial medical record.
  3. In “Occupational Exposure” cases, no discussion with the doctor about work duties or prior incidents. (In Wisconsin, a worker can recover for workers’ compensation in one of two ways: 
    1. A traumatic injury where a single incident has caused the disability (lifting a box, falling, etc.)
    2. Occupational Exposure, where the wear and tear of a worker’s job causes the disability over time. In this latter category, workers routinely do not indicate with any kind of specificity the type of work they perform when they see the doctor.

These three tips can help us as workers’ compensation lawyers win claims, more so than any “Clarence Darrow” court room techniques or strategies.

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The Dangers of Working with Vibrating Tools

Today’s post comes from guest author Anthony L. Lucas, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Vibration White Finger (VWF) or “Dead Finger,” now known as Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), is a chronic, progressive disorder caused by regular and prolonged use of vibrating hand tools that can progress to loss of effective hand function and necrosis of the fingers. In its advanced stages, the obvious symptom is finger blanching (losing color). Other symptoms include numbness, pain, and tingling in the fingers, as well as a weakened grip.

It is estimated that as many as 50 percent of the estimated 2 million U.S. workers exposed to hand-arm vibration will develop HAVS. Some common industries and the tools associated with HAVS are listed below:

  • Agriculture & Forestry – Chainsaws
  • Automotive – Impact Wrenches, Riveting Guns
  • Construction – Jackhammers
  • Foundries – Chippers, Grinders
  • Metal Working – Buffers, Sanders
  • Mining – Jack-Leg Drills, Stoper Drills

The time between a worker’s first exposure to hand-arm vibration to the development of HAVS symptoms can range from a few months to several years. Prevention is critical because while the early stages of HAVS are usually reversible if vibration exposure is reduced or eliminated, treatment is usually ineffective after the fingers blanch. 

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Job Stress Linked To: Weight Gain, Hypertension & Hormone Imbalance

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s NIOSH Research Rounds – Volume 1, Issue 10, April 2016, is the link where the article featured in today’s blog post came from, via Jon Gelman’s Twitter feed. Mr. Gelman, of Jon L. Gelman, L.L.C., is a respected advocate for injured workers in New Jersey, and I thank him for sharing this resource.

When you think about your job, what are the words that come to mind? How do you describe your job and how it makes you feel?

The notion of stress means many different things in different contexts. Sustaining a work-related injury and navigating through a state’s workers’ compensation system is one kind of stress that our employees help clients with every day. As you can see below, another kind of stress has to do with job fit, and that “can lead to poor health and even injury.”

“Job stress refers to the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker,” according to the article. “One form of stress under investigation at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is job strain, which occurs when high job demands combine with low job control.”

There are good links to different research abstracts that were featured in this article, so I’d encourage people to consider each one.

When it comes to job stress and job strain, I hope that employers consider how they can make such occupations as truck driving and nursing less challenging for workers. In addition, I hope that workers can, within the limits of their job descriptions and work schedules, digest the information and think about how to reduce job stress and job strain to both prevent injury and increase overall health.

Have a safe, productive week. Please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer for specific questions, whether you or a loved one has been injured at work, regardless of how the injury occurred.

 

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Work Comp Cost-Containment: IME Company May Fetch Billions

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

In January, I wrote about how workers’ compensation has a cost-containment industrial complex that not only harms workers but also is a potential profit generator for groups like private-equity firms.

According to this link from The Wall Street Journal, a private-equity firm named Leonard Green & Partners LP recently submitted an offer to buy an IME company called Exam Works for $2.2 billion. Yes, that’s billion with a B.

“The insurance-defense-industrial-complex has become a multi-billion dollar enterprise,” as was noted on Aleksy Belcher Law Firm’s Facebook page earlier last week (Aleksy Belcher is a workers’ compensation plaintiff’s firm based in Chicago).

The Wall Street Journal article linked above talks about the hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue that Exam Works posted last year and also its purpose.

“It said it serves more than 6,000 clients globally, including property and casualty insurance carriers, law firms, third-party claim administrators and government agencies, helping them manage costs and enhance their risk-management and compliance processes,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

What this means for injured workers and their loved ones is that the big business and added bureaucracy of “cost-containment” may translate to even more profit at the expense of injured workers, going into the private-equity company’s pockets if the sale goes through.

The way IME companies are seen as potential profit centers for private-equity firms is one of the many reasons that if an IME – Independent Medical Exam – or DME – Defense Medical Exam – is ordered for an injured worker, that injured worker should seek the advice of an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer. Workers’ compensation lawyers advocate for injured workers and help them understand the workers’ compensation process, including IMEs, so the playing field of the workers’ compensation process might be a little more even. That way, cost containment, though not as profitable for private-equity firms, can give way to injured workers getting the medical treatment and compensation that they need to move on with their lives.

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Port of Bellingham Ordered to Pay Injured Ferry Worker

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter writes that the Port of Bellingham has been ordered to pay $16M in damages to an Alaska Ferries employee injured in 2012.

The verdict was returned Friday, April 1st, after a nine-day trial before U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman. Jim Jacobsen, one of the attorneys representing the employee, Shannon Adamson, and her husband, Nicholas, of Juneau, said the eight-member jury deliberated about five hours before deciding the case.

The jury found the port negligent for failing to fix a control panel that operated the passenger gangway ramp at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, even though evidence at the trial showed the port knew the panel was faulty and officials there knew of a previous, similar accident in 2008.

The Bellingham Herald’s Samantha Wohlfeil reported in September of 2014 that the Port of Bellingham Commission had settled a dispute over insurance coverage and was then able to go forward with repairs to the passenger ramp – two years after the accident that injured Ms. Adamson.


Photo Credit: THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

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Need Joint Replacement and on Medicare? Better Not Be Sick.

Having a lung ailment may make it more difficult to obtain coverage for joint replacement.

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

A new Medicare rule that took effect April 1, 2016 retools Medicare payments for hip and knee replacements.  Patients with serious medical conditions such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and lung ailments may not be able to find an orthopaedic surgeon willing to perform the joint replacement because hospitals face financial incentives to avoid patients with a high risk of complications. 

Hospitals will be given a “target price” for total joint replacements for the patient’s entire care from the hospital stay to outpatient rehabilitation through 90 days after discharge, according to a new rule from the Center for Medicare Services.  If the reimbursement is less than the target price, the hospital may receive an additional payment from Medicare as an incentive for good outcomes.  On the other hand, the hospital may be required to pay back part of their reimbursement that goes above the target.  The rule is intended to control costs on the $7 Billion Medicare spends for hospital care and for almost one-half million beneficiaries who receive a hip or knee replacement each year.  However, since Medicare will pay only one “bundled payment” for the patient’s entire care after total joint replacement surgery, the hospital will be accountable for the quality of care through the incentives and penalties.  The surgeon shares responsibility when a patient is re-admitted to the hospital and receives a “black mark” even when the re-admission has nothing to do with the joint replacement.  An unintended consequence of this payment model may be “cherry picking” of low risk patients.  Patients claiming a work-related connection to joint replacement surgery who have been denied by Medicare may face additional hurdles in obtaining their surgery. 

Stay tuned…

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Countertop Workers Face Silicosis Risk from Engineered Stone Countertops

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Engineered stone countertops, a popular fixture in today’s homes, pose a health risk to workers who cut and finish them. The danger stems from the material the countertops are made from, processed quartz, which contains silica levels up to 90 percent. Silica is linked to a debilitating and potentially deadly lung disease known as silicosis, as well as lung cancer and kidney disease.

While the countertops do not pose a risk to consumers in their homes, they do pose a risk to the workers who cut and finish them before they are installed. When the countertops are cut, silica particles are released into the air, which when breathed in by the workers can start processes leading to silicosis. Manufacturers of the engineered stone countertops assert that worker hazards can be reduced through the use of protective respirators and equipment designed to trap silica dust. Despite this assertion, many safety precautions taken by employers are often inadequate.

The first documented case of silicosis among countertop workers in the United States was reported two years ago. In countries such as Israel and Spain, where engineered stone products gained their popularity, many more countertop workers have been diagnosed with silicosis and have had to undergo lung transplants. The danger of silicosis in the construction industry led OSHA to recently issue new rules requiring construction workers’ silica exposure to be reduced by 80 percent beginning on June 23, 2017.

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Congratulations to Partner Michael Gruber, New President-Elect of WILG

Partner Mike Gruber being sworn in with the WILG Executive Committee.

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Partner Michael Gruber is the new President-Elect of WILG, the Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group. He joins a long list of partners at our firm who have served on WILG’s leadership team, including past presidents Edgar Romano and Catherine Stanton, who currently serve on the WILG board alongside Victor Pasternack.

Michael Gruber has been a workers’ compensation lawyer since 1996. In addition to litigating workers compensation claims, he oversees the Workers Compensation Appellate Division practice at the firm and has been successful in numerous appeals to the New York State Appellate Division, Third Department. In 2012, Mr. Gruber was named as the chairman of the Workers Compensation Committee of the Brooklyn Bar Association. He is also a member of the Injured Workers Bar Association and the Workers Compensation Alliance, organizations focusing on workers compensation issues in New York. He regularly lectures on workers compensation law to various labor organizations.

WILG is the national non-profit membership organization dedicated to representing the interests of millions of workers and their families who, each year, suffer the consequences of work-related  injuries or occupational illnesses and who need expert legal assistance to obtain medical care and other relief under workers’ compensation programs. To learn more, visit www.WILG.org